Friday, May 11, 2007

Making Things Worse

Here's an interesting writing lesson from The Blood Knight. One of the many techniques for writing riveting and compelling fiction is to get your characters into a bad situation and instead of freeing them make things worse. Keyes has an interesting situation in which some characters are trying to figure out how to get past some bad guys only to face a much more serious problem. A horde of transmorgified villagers come screaming through the area ravaging and destroying everything that gets in their way. They are an unstoppable (semi) human wave. The group of main characters decide to climb up a tree in order to get away from them. (This brings up another lesson that Keyes teaches with this scene: Creating Great Fiction 101- a) get your characters up a tree, b) throw rocks at them.) Now comes the point of this post; you want to constantly make things worse for your main character(s). So how do you do it in this instance? One thought that came to me was to make the tree fall over. That would definitely be Very Bad for the characters. But the problem would be that the internal logic of the book demands that they be ripped to shreds. In order to arrange for their continued journey towards The End, Keyes would have to come up with some kind of miraculous way for them to survive. There are only so many miracles that you can stick into a novel. Therefore, making things Impossibly Bad for your main characters is something you cannot do. Be careful about that. You want things bad but not too bad. If you are writing something and you feel you need a miraculous escape, you've probably fallen into this trap.


Seren said...

It could also be an opportunity for the Author to use this Very Bad Situation as a vehicle for exploring the character of his Protagonist(s). Are they made of The Right Stuff? Well, here’s the chance to show you - the reader - whether they are or not!
Do they Keep Their Cool and Think Their Way out of the situation using such bones as the Author chooses to throw them in the form of Possible Means of Escape in a constructive manner leading to their Salvation? ( Hint to Potential Authors: if you opt for this strategy make it exciting with plenty of !!! and short pithy dialogue tending towards the overly dramatic interwoven with frenzied action. Insert a few witty quips from Main Protagonist demonstrating a Careless Attitude to Danger and an understanding that Esprit de Corps and High Morale will extract our characters from their Potentially Lethal Scenario.)
Or do they resort to Mindless Panic and Petty Arguments where Blame is freely lobbed around as the Noose draws tighter around them and Death stalks the treetops? Is their escape from the Very Bad Scenario only achieved by means of the Author’s contrivance i.e. sending in The Cavalry! (This could take the form of Ye Olde Knight With Sharp Sword plus One White Charger if the Hapless Victims be Damsels in Distress or it could be in the form of A Sudden and Unexpected Diversion such as the arrival of ‘The Eagles’ (characters whose only purpose is to rescue the characters from The Dire Predicament in which they find themselves and then to disappear into Total Obscurity for the rest of the novel) to bear our Protagonists to safety and the security of an Unthreatening Plotline.)
Could be that one of the Protagonists may reveal Character Traits hitherto concealed that may mark out him/her as The Potential Leader or perhaps The Cowardly Buffoon. Maybe even it could be the start of The Great Romance! Two characters trapped in a situation that may result in their Tragic and Gruesome Demise and who have previously Hated Each Other’s Guts may suddenly discover that their need to collaborate in order to stave off said Gruesome Demise ignites the spark of Romantic Love and marks the beginning of a Un Grand Passion. (you have to say that in a French accent  or it doesn’t work.)
Equally, the Very Bad Situation could be an excuse for a Darkly Comic Foray by aforementioned Author into Disgusting and Horrible Ways To Kill Off Characters That Make The Reader Feel Utterly Nauseous. Mr Keyes does quite a lot of this (and he has a talent for it, I must say.)
So there we are . . .
Sorry, Scriptorius, I didn’t mean to Go On for so long.
And now for something completely different!

Scriptorius Rex said...

Keyes makes all the bad guys run away after appearing to kill off Stephen Darige. This is an interesting trick because he's always been a sidekick and I thought his apparent death was an actual one because he was not central to the story. It would seem that the Briar King thinks otherwise and needs him alive.